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Hyperbaric oxygen chambers--- nowadays not just science fiction.

Science fiction that's not fictional, technology that probably seemed far-out a couple or so decades back but is everyday use now.  I'm referring to hyperbaric oxygen chambers.

As hyperbaric chambers and hyperbaric oxygen therapy play key parts in my medical techno-thriller, A REMEDY FOR DEATH, I took advantage of an opportunity recently to visit (as an observer, not a patient) the Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine, a part of the Sebastian River Medical Center in Sebastian, Florida. 

I came away with some photos and info I hadn't previously known, and thought this would be a good place to share as background to readers of A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

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 Before there was hyperbaric oxygen therapy to stimulate healing, there were decompression tanks for divers. Initially, decompression tanks were used with divers suffering from the bends, though more recently have been used to reduce the amount of underwater decompression needed from deep dives. (It's a lot more comfortable to sit or lie in a decompression chamber than to hang on a rope in cold water.)

The primary objective in using  hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a patient is to increase the concentration of oxygen in the blood, as a way of promoting healing. For that reason, a lot of the patients attending the Sebastian Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine suffer from diabetic wounds or other injuries that have bneen slow to heal.

Put them in a chamber, pump up the concentration to maybe two atmospheres or so (around what you'd be experiencing as a scuba diver 30-50 feet underwater), then increase the oxygen to 100% from its normal range when mixed with outside air, and healing significantly speeds up. Though, to qualify that, it may take 10, 30 or more sessions in the tank for the desired breakthrough.

Each "dive" lasts from one to about two and a  half hours. (The term "dive" comes from the old use for divers. Besides, if I were a patient, I think I'd rather brag to the gang down at the bowling alley that "I'm going to take a dive tomorrow", than say the ho-hum "off to therapy.")

While in that "dive," the patient lies on a comfortable bed, and can read or watch TV. (But definitely not smoke! Remember how bad things happen when pure oxygen and flames, or even sparks, get together.)  For that same reason-- to avoid any chance of a spark -- the maintenance staff uses special mops and solvents.

Here's another shot of a hyperbaric chamber, this time with the hatch sealed.  The tanks used here are open and bright, so patients don't risk the claustrophobic sense in other "tubes" such as MRI.

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I said the primary objective in using hyperbaric therapy is to speed healing, that is, helping tissues knit together more rapidly.

But there are other uses, including to help the recovery of victims of stroke or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).  It seems that most of the more visionary experimental work has to be done outside the United States, because of our slow-to-change regulatory mode.

There was a rumor that singer Michael Jackson slept in a hyperbaric chamber in the hopes of staying young. Rumor or true, who knows.  But there is research being done on that now--- can hyperbaric oxygen therapy slow aging?

My thanks to Timothy G. Adkins, M.D., Medical Director at the Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine, part of the Sebastian River Medical Center, Sebastian, FL.  Oh, as to the question, What does it feel like to be in a hyperbaric chamber breathing oxygen?  According to Dr. Adkins, it doesn't feel any different than breathing normal air at normal pressure.

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